Bartram is one of my personal heroes and a man that almost everyone finds
endearing. Although he started
life in colonial America with some impressive advantages (for instance, his
father, John, achieved fame as a botanist and rubbed shoulders with the likes
of Ben Franklin), he faced
formidable obstacles in the way of his own dreamy, irresolute nature.
Itís unlikely that anyone including himself expected he would become famous,
let alone be known far and wide as one of Americaís first proto-literary
figures; his book
had an immense influence on the English Romantic poets.
Of more immediate interest to Americans and especially
Floridians is the fact that his book deals with nature study in the lower part
of the English colonies just before the American Revolution.
His take on the Seminole Indians, in particular, is noteworthy.
Travels is a classic, still
intriguing for his observations--and the unique, Quakerified personality it
reveals. I recommend his book to
I have spent years of fretting over a few of Bartramís more puzzling observations.
Many a pleasant hour has been passed ruminating on these topics with others with
an interest in Florida natural history. Both
amateur naturalists such as myself and professionals in the biological sciences have expressed extreme perplexity by some of the things William
So far as I have been able to determine, though, I am the first
recently to challenge Bartramís assertions in print.
Please, however, do not think my feeling Bartram is in error here and
there in any way diminishes his work.
a copy of Charles Willson Pealeís
portrait of William in his later years.
Illustrating the article is one of Bartramís own drawings of the Seminole chief, Micco
Chlucco. This picture, while
presumably accurate in its details, also shows Bartramís
Romantic and perhaps even child-like character.
Below you will find another of Bartramís drawings, presumably of a
paddlefish. Although scientifically accurate, this picture also exhibits traits that can only be
called poetic. The paper included
below was first published in The
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Journal of Florida Literature, Volume IX, 2000.
Although an academic paper, I think it is neither so snooty nor so
technical that a non-technical (i.e. anyone not being compelled by class or
profession) reader canít profit from reading it.
This version is the last one I found in my archives and may vary a bit
from the printed version. Hope
you enjoy it.
Click to read article